If you drive along Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima, you probably have seen motorists speeding upwards of 60 mph.
A city speed survey found that up to 19 percent of drivers speed on Van Nuys Boulevard, which poses a threat to the health and safety of people — particularly children and seniors — who walk the street.
This major thoroughfare has schools, city services, nonprofit agencies and businesses of all kinds along it or nearby so pedestrian, bicycle and car traffic are all constant and very heavy at times.
But less than half of the intersections have crosswalks and it makes for “extremely unsafe situations for pedestrians,” said Max Podemski, planning director for the environmental association Pacoima Beautiful.
All of these factors contribute to Van Nuys Boulevard having a higher rate of injuries compared to similar streets in Los Angeles, according to city authorities.
“Collisions with people walking and biking on the street are over four times the citywide average,” according to the Van Nuys Great Street Project. “Since 2011, there have been 57 pedestrians and bicyclists injured from crashes along Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima.”
But changes are coming.
Starting this summer, the stretch of road between Laurel Canyon Boulevard and San Fernando Road will get a major makeover.
The Van Nuys Great Street Project will bring a new design to this major traffic artery that city leaders hope will turn the heavy trafficked road into a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly thoroughfare, is about to begin.
“In this area many people rely on walking, biking and public transit and the idea is to turn Van Nuys into a pedestrian friendly street to spur additional businesses and bring new ones in,” Podemski said.
Podemski added that local businesses support the project.
“A lot of customers to these businesses are coming on foot. People feel like you’re taking your life into your hands. This will enhance the customer’s ability to get to these businesses.”
One of the major changes coming will be bike lanes on both sides of the road.
Creating the bike lanes will require the removal of one northbound travel lane, and the addition of a southbound parking-protected bike lane. The parking protected bike lane will travel next to the curb, so drivers would be required to park in marked stalls away from the curb, on the southbound side of Van Nuys Boulevard.
At the north end, the bike lanes will connect with the San Fernando Road rail-with-trail bike path.
Additional “red curbs” will be installed at intersections to improve safety and visibility at intersections.
This will do away with between 20-25 parking spaces in the area, according to the project overview, which also claims these changes won’t critically alter travel time through the area.
“These changes may cause, at most, a travel time increase of 48 seconds for those driving on Van Nuys Boulevard where the road design would be installed,” the project overview stated.
Crosswalks and Parklets
High-visibility crosswalks are to be installed, the overview stated, that “increases the driver’s ability to see pedestrian crossing” and “shortens the crossing distance.”
New “zebra-striped” continental crosswalks will be at all signalized intersections; some intersections will also receive painted curb extensions.
In addition, the design creates “parklet opportunities,” which currently are prevented because of the high vehicle speeds in the area. The new design would slow traffic, allowing for future installation of parklets for public seating to serve business patrons and others.
These parklets are already a fixture in downtown Los Angeles. They began appearing a couple of years ago, with various degrees of success.
The project also calls for the removal of the four-block landscaped median between Haddon Avenue and Telfair Avenue.
This would allow drivers to make left turns on streets where they currently can’t do that.
The summer project is set to begin with the demolition of the median, resurfacing of Van Nuys Boulevard and installation of the new street design.
The city will replace every tree removed with two new trees.
Pacoima Beautiful was involved in the project from the start. The organization conducted focus groups and studies in the community and “the top category that people said they wanted was safety enhancements and street amenities, benches, crosswalks,” Podemski explained.
“This is a project that’s been decades in the making. This is a general sea change in creating safer streets. The idea is to create more of a traditional main street that you see in other parts of the city.”